Sorrentino’s authoritative and sympathetic portrait revives a “bohemian rebel” and prolific, groundbreaking writer.

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STEPHEN CRANE

A LIFE OF FIRE

Thoroughly researched biography of Stephen Crane (1871-1900), who shocked his contemporaries with raw, gritty fiction.

Sorrentino (English/Virginia Tech; editor: Stephen Crane Remembered, 2006, etc.) faced challenges in writing this biography: mainly, previous books that perpetuated errors and lies and few sources to set the record straight. His study chronicles the personal and literary struggles of a controversial writer who vowed to live “a life of fire.” The youngest son in a large family of precociously intelligent children, Crane refused to follow in his father’s footsteps as a minister, instead hoping to train at West Point for a military career. However, his plan was deflected by an older brother’s advice to enter a mining-engineering program at Lafayette College. There, and later at Syracuse University, Crane was a mediocre student, preferring to drink, smoke, play poker and carouse with his fraternity brothers; he finally dropped out and moved to New York City, intent on becoming a writer. While barely supporting himself as a journalist, he finished a novel drawn from the life he observed in the city’s slums: “the bleak portrayal of a naïve, sentimental girl in the tenements of New York.” Unable to find a publisher for Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Crane published the book himself, winning praise from writer Hamlin Garland and influential editor William Dean Howells. The novel, Sorrentino writes, was “the first significant example of literary determinism in American literature,” but its candor and pessimism made critics wary of reviewing it. Three years later, though, The Red Badge of Courage, Crane’s psychological study of a Civil War soldier, generated adulation and fame. Good fortune was short-lived, however; bad business decisions and “questionable ethics” eroded what he earned, and Crane’s last years were fraught with financial troubles. He kept writing, always hoping for a fresh start, until tuberculosis killed him at the age of 28.

Sorrentino’s authoritative and sympathetic portrait revives a “bohemian rebel” and prolific, groundbreaking writer.

Pub Date: June 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-04953-6

Page Count: 452

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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